October 15, 2020
Jenna Schwerzmann, Joanna Toole Intern
The Marine Debris and Plastics Program has been documenting this year’s debris removals, despite the challenges that the pandemic has created. While some CCS staff worked hard to retrieve tons of lost fishing gear from the surrounding waters of Cape Cod, others are working to understand marine debris issues on land. I am one of those people as the new Joanna Toole Intern!
When I arrived on Cape Cod, I was introduced to Laura Ludwig, Director of the Marine Debris and Plastics Program, and Amy Green, Marine Debris and Plastics Intern. Introductions out of the way, we took a spontaneous journey to Lobster Cove, a semi-enclosed area of Long Point. The Cove’s location and shape make it a prime area for trapping debris washed up during extreme high tides, but difficult to access since it requires walking over a mile-long breakwater (and then some), or approaching by boat. Laura and Amy had already paid a visit about a month prior, compiling and tallying some of the larger debris, but they were not able to bring it all back to land that day. Laura’s boat made it all possible!
In early August, we cruised out from MacMillan Wharf, past the local cormorant colony and south toward Long Point. Conditions were perfect, and our mission was timed for high tide so the distance from the water to the debris would be shortest. Upon anchoring, we set out to find the areas where Amy and Laura had cached debris and picked up more as we walked around. We worked quickly, with the tide in mind, and soon our bags were full. However, you can almost always find an extra container that has washed up. During this trip, we found a bucket, a giant blue barrel, and a tarp to hold down our collection.
After we collected as much as we could, we dragged our haul back to the boat with ropes and sleds. We joked that this was not your average cleanup; this was advanced level debris removal! Not sure whether the dinghy would hold all the trash AND all three humans, Amy and I expected to walk back over the breakwater. But with expert packing and loading we made it work, and successfully transported the load to the mainland.
We moved the trash to the bed of Laura’s pickup truck where it stayed until we could sort it, a few days later. During our inventory, Laura gave us plenty of insight to the debris we did not recognize. Most of the unfamiliar pieces were related to fishing or boating. We found bait bags, escape vents, pieces of lobster pots and netting, aquaculture gear, and a lot of rope. We even collected a whole cushion from a boat bench seat! It was interesting to see that our collection had nearly as much “ocean-based” debris as it did “land-based” debris. Having participated in plenty of beach cleanups on residential shorelines, I expected more food wrappers and single-use packaging. There was a clear difference between what I usually see washing up on beaches and what we collected from the more remote location of Lobster Cove.
Out of the total number of items collected (998!), about 30% was related to fishing or boating. While Cape Cod is well-known for its rich maritime history and excellent fishing, it is unfortunate to find so much plastic waste left behind from these activities. It was a challenging cleanup, but we worked together to pull it off and we plan to go back soon. Since most of the debris finds its way into Lobster Cove over the winter, we hope it will still be clean when we return this fall!